Vegetables naturally contain a lot of water, which is one of many reasons why they’re so good for us. But all that water can make it challenging to use them successfully in one of their most common applications: salads.
If those veggies release a lot of their liquid after you’ve tossed them with the dressing, you’ll end up with a diluted, soggy, unappetizing dish that’s more soup than salad. A great illustration of this issue is vegetable slaw. Who among us hasn’t suffered through bland, watery, soggy slaw and longed for a better way?
With meat, we want to preserve as much of the interior moisture as possible, but when it comes to vegetables, more often we are trying to get the water out. But despite the fact that we have opposite goals for vegetables and meat, the same ingredient achieves both ends: salt.
When salt is applied to vegetables, it dissolves on the surface. In order to equalize the salt concentration levels, the water deep within the cells migrates outward in a process called osmosis—the same process that’s at work with brining salting meat With meat, we wait until the water is reabsorbed back into the cells, carrying the salt along with it, before cooking. But with vegetables, we want to quickly remove most of that excess moisture
This exodus of water from the cells also causes the cells to weaken, which translates into the vegetables becoming softer (a bonus when it comes time to eat tougher or harder vegetables like cabbage or beets). The overall process is similar to tossing chopped fruit with sugar and letting it sit before using it in a pie or crisp (a process known as macerating). Using sugar works with vegetables, too, though more slowly. Incorporating a bit of sugar can be a way to draw out water without making the veggies too salty.
1 Toss vegetables with salt in colander setover bowl.
2 Let sit until vegetables wilt and exude excess liquid into bowl (from 30 minutes for soft vegetables like tomatoes to 1 hour or longer for crunchy vegetables like cabbage).
3A If rinsing If recipe directs, rinse vegetables under cold running water to remove excess salt and liquid. Pat dry with paper towels.
3B If spinning Or, if recipe directs, spin vegetables in salad spinner to remove excess moisture, without rinsing.
Creamy Buttermilk Coleslaw
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Unlike an all-mayo slaw, buttermilk coleslaw—a specialty of the South—is coated in a light, creamy, and refreshingly tart dressing. We wanted a recipe that showcased the best attributes of this side salad: a pickle-crisp texture in the cabbage and a tangy dressing that clung to it. To prevent watery coleslaw, we salted, rinsed, and dried our shredded cabbage. As the salted cabbage sat, moisture was pulled out of it, wilting the tough shreds to the right crispy texture. For a tangy dressing that stayed with the cabbage and didn’t pool at the bottom of the bowl, we supplemented the buttermilk with mayonnaise and sour cream. For finishing touches, we added sweet shredded carrot and mild minced shallot.
1 pound red or green cabbage (about ½ medium head), shredded (about 6 cups)
1¼ teaspoons table salt, divided
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
½ cup buttermilk 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream 1 small shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
½ teaspoon cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sugar
⅛ teaspoon pepper
1 Toss cabbage with 1 teaspoon salt in colander set over medium bowl. Let stand until cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Rinse cabbage under cold running water (or in large bowl of ice water if serving immediately). Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels. Transfer cabbage to large bowl and add carrot.
2 Combine remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, shallot, parsley, vinegar, mustard, sugar and pepper in small bowl, pour over cabbage-carrot mixture, and toss to coat. Serve chilled or at room temperature. (Coleslaw can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
Buttermilk Coleslaw with Scallions and Cilantro Omit mustard. Substitute 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro for parsley and 1 teaspoon lime juice for vinegar. Add 2 thinly sliced scallions to dressing in step 2.
Lemony Buttermilk Coleslaw Substitute 1 teaspoon lemon juice for vinegar. Add 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme and 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives to dressing in step 2.
Beet, Endive, and Pear Slaw
Serves 4 to 6
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Root vegetables such as beets stay crisp once shredded and dressed, and their distinctive flavor enlivens a slaw. Beets have a high enough water content that they must be pretreated, but using just salt left them too salty, so we added some sugar as well. Endive’s slight bitterness made a nice foil to the sweet beets. Pears added texture and some floral sweetness. For contrasting color and herbal flavor, we tossed in some cilantro. And we decided on a vinaigrette dressing; sherry vinegar offered an oaky complexity, and Dijon mustard punched up the flavor and lent the dressing body. To save time, we recommend shredding and treating the beets before prepping the remaining ingredients. Shred the beets on the large holes of a box grater or with the shredding disk of a food processor.
1½ pounds beets, trimmed, peeled, and shredded
¼ cup sugar, plus extra for seasoning
1½ teaspoons table salt, divided ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, plus extra for seasoning 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon pepper
2 heads Belgian endive (4 ounces each), cored and sliced thin on bias
2 pears, peeled, halved, cored, and cut into matchsticks
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 Toss beets with sugar and 1 teaspoon salt in colander set over medium bowl and let sit until partially wilted and reduced in volume by one-third, about 15 minutes.
2 Meanwhile, whisk oil, vinegar, mustard, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper in large bowl until combined.
3 Transfer beets to salad spinner and spin until excess water is removed, 10 to 20 seconds.
4 Transfer beets to bowl with dressing. Add endive, pears, and cilantro to bowl with beets and toss to combine. Season with salt, pepper, extra sugar, and/or extra vinegar to taste. Serve immediately